It's a situation in which you shouldn't trust your first instinct because it may be fatal. Overcorrecting, or quickly snatching the steering wheel back in the direction of the road to get back on it when your vehicle goes onto the shoulder, is one of the leading causes of traffic fatalities in this country.
From all reports thus far, it appears that the school bus driver simply left the roadway momentarily and then over corrected, causing the bus to to leave the roadway and injuring, some seriously, the 25 students aboard the bus.
When the front tire goes off the shoulder and then hits the raised surface of a paved road, that difference can be deadly. "That's what causes the vehicle to lose control," says Capt. Brent Coates of the Florida Highway Patrol. "That's when the vehicle flips and people are ejected if they're not wearing a seat belt."
Momentary distractions such as changing a CD, dropping a cigarette or answering a cell phone can cause drivers to straddle the shoulder of the road, but panic becomes their worst enemy.
Coates said in that split second, he knows a driver's first instinct is to snatch the wheel to get back on the road, but a driver should immediately do two things when their vehicle veers off the roadway.
"The first thing is to let off the gas and get a firm grip on the steering wheel," he said. "Then, once the vehicle is slowed down, the driver should ease the vehicle back onto the roadway." If no obstacles are on the side of the road, a driver can just slow down and stop, then get back on the road when there's no traffic and they've calmed down.
"Drivers should look for what's on the side of the road as they're driving in case they have to leave the road like that," Coates said. "Planning ahead while you're driving is second nature for us (troopers), but drivers don't always do that."
The wreck this morning brings to a head the issue of seat belts on school buses and whether they should be mandated by the federal and/or state goverment. In November 2007, U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary E. Peters announced a new federal proposal to make school buses safer by requiring higher seat backs and setting new seat belt standards for the nation’s 474,000 school buses.
Despite the new proposal, the official National Highway Transportation Administration (NHTSA) position statement on seat belts on school buses concludes that "there is insufficient reason for a Federal mandate for seat belts on large school buses." The statement points out that:
"School bus transportation is one of the safest forms of transportation in the United States. We require all new school buses to meet safety requirements over and above those applying to all other passenger vehicles. These include requirements for improved emergency exits, roof structure, seating and fuel systems, and bus body joint integrity. These requirements help ensure that school buses are extremely safe."
NHTSA feels that the best way to provide crash protection to passengers is through "compartmentalization," in which "buses provide occupant protection so that children are protected without the need to buckle-up. Occupant crash protection is provided by a protective envelope consisting of strong, closely-spaced seats that have energy-absorbing seat backs."
It is my opinion that properly worn seat belts would certainly have minimized the nature and extent of the injuries caused by the careless driving of the school bus driver.